At annual summit, ADL head rails against critics of Zionism while ignoring far-right antisemitism

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  May 2, 2023

ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt attacked anti-Zionists in an address at the organization’s annual National Leadership Summit but barely mentioned far-right antisemitism.

On Monday Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt addressed the group’s National Leadership Summit and spent most of his speech attacking critics of Zionism.

In many ways his talk echoed his remarks from last year’s summit, where anti-Zionism was also the predominant theme. However, that speech referenced former president Donald Trump and the extreme Right. This year Greenblatt eschewed any mention of right-wing antisemitism save an acknowledgment that any ideology can fuel violence.

Greenblatt set the tone of his speech right away. “Just last week, we celebrated Israel’s 75th Independence Day. I know there are challenges in Israel right now. For many there — and here — this historic Yom Ha’atzmaut is filled with pride but also with complexity…worry…anxiety…and concern about the future of the Jewish state,” he told viewers. “And I know that for bigots — especially those who self-style as “anti-Zionists” — Israel’s Independence Day is a day to redouble their efforts to make sure it is Israel’s last Independence Day.”

He went on to warn supporters about the growing impact of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “Indeed, over the past few years, the BDS movement has moved from college campuses and into corporate boardrooms — like when Ben and Jerry’s announced that they would not sell ice cream in the West Bank…or when rating agencies like Morningstar adopted policies that would make doing business with the Jewish State a black mark on their profile,” he explained.

Greenblatt’s speech also cites a recent ADL poll on attitudes toward Jews that shows one-in-five Americans believe antisemitic tropes and antisemitic acts in the U.S. have increased by 500% in just a decade.

However, a closer look at the statistics reveals that the organization’s methodology is questionable. The group counts anti-Zionist protests as antisemitic acts, vastly inflating the final numbers. “Public statements of opposition to Zionism, which are often antisemitic, are included in the Audit when it can be determined that they had a negative impact on one or more Jewish individuals or identifiable, localized groups of Jews,” write the report’s authors. “This is most commonly the case on college campuses, where studies have shown that vociferous opposition to Israel and Zionism can have a chilling effect on Jewish student life and compound on pressures felt by Jewish students added to the incidents accounted for in this Audit.”

The survey documents 241 incidents, 70 of which are actions from anti-Zionist activist groups.

The group’s findings faced no pushback in the mainstream media. The New York Times covered the report and printed the ADL’s claim that it “does not conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism” without any caveats. Greenblatt also touted the report on PBS Newshour and was allowed to sound off about “hardened anti-Zionists activists on college campuses” without any critical follow-up questions. Host Geoff Bennett even repeated the ADL’s talking points. “I too was struck by reading this report about the 41% increase of antisemitic activity reported on college and university campuses,” he told Greenblatt. “And doing more reading about it what I learned is that Jewish students often say that harassment is often compounded when criticism of Israel arises. Tell me more about that.”

For years activists have insisted that the ADL should not be understood as an organization focused on antisemitism, “Even though the ADL is integrated into community work on a range of issues, it has a history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence,” reads a 2020 open letter from a coalition of organizations calling on progressives to sever their ties with the group. “More disturbing, it has often conducted those attacks under the banner of “civil rights.” This largely unpublicized history has come increasingly to light as activists work to make sense of the ADL’s role in condemning the Movement for Black Lives, Palestinian rights organizing, and Congressional Representative Ilhan Omar, among others.”

The ADL’s growing focus on anti-Zionism coincides with recent polling suggesting that Israel is losing support among Democratic voters. A new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll found that 44% of Democrats think Israel is a state with segregation similar to apartheid, and 34% said it was a flawed democracy. Among Democrats who had heard of BDS 41% said they supported the movement. Only 20% said they opposed it. An April poll from the Pew Research Center showed that just one-in-ten liberal Democrats has a positive view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss